Category Archives: Zion Canyon Issues

Issues about Zion Canyon and Zion Park generally.

Rockville / Springdale Fire District Public Meeting – 9 June 2014

FireDistMeetBob Orton, Chairman of the Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District, brought the meeting to order shortly after 6:30 on Monday. We all knew that we were in for a difficult session. Fees are going up. The details won’t be released until a public hearing is held later this year. This was just an information meeting.

One detail is that the board had to take $200,000 out of reserves this year to pay the bills. They won’t be able to do this for another year. The fact is that they take in $165,000 a year now. They need $440,000 a year.

The people of Springdale and Rockville are between a rock and a hard spot. A resident of Rockville on a fixed income who didn’t plan on living in a tourist town and doesn’t like it much is between a wall of broken glass … and a hard spot. The fire board was there to explain why it has to be that way and what they planned on doing about it.

But before I get into that, I want to thank the fire district board for their selfless dedication to the Zion Canyon Community. The worst thing that I can say about these great people is that they waited too long to hit us with these facts. It would have been better if they anticipated the future earlier and ramped up charges a little sooner instead of hitting us with such a big charge all at once. Bob took the blame for that one, but it’s clearly a sin of excessive kindness.

Michael Plyler’s explanation about the problem wasn’t a lot different than the one he gave to the Springdale town council on 14 April. (Covered in my report here.) Practice helped Michael make it shorter and main points clearer. Since I have already summarized Michael’s presentation, I won’t do it again here.

The main problem is that we’re a very small community … Michael estimated that at most … including even absentee home and business owners … 1,100  people were trying to cover the cost of a fire and emergency medical service for three million visitors a year. That’s not all bad. Left on our own without the three million visitors, we would be forced to use distant and unreliable services. Lots of other rural communities do. Here, Rockville and Springdale people at least have a local fire and rescue service, even if we struggle to pay for it.

But it’s also clear that the tourist business isn’t paying their fair share. Michael added this example to his presentation to drive the point home.

In December, we had three medical calls. In May, we had twenty. Fourteen of those were transports. Eleven of those fourteen were out of town visitors. Results are still to be entered whether or not we are going to get paid for all of those runs for out of town visitors.

Another reason we’re struggling to pay the cost of our service is that the State of Utah requires a lot of expensive equipment.

  • The district had to upgrade radios to digital radios. They bought refurbished radios to save money, but they still cost $2,200 to $2,800 each. The network system for the digital radios alone costs $300 a month. Dictated by the state.
  • The district pays $500 a month for a doctor to oversee the drug program on the ambulance. Dictated by the state.

These things are called “unfunded mandates” by the state legislators in Salt Lake. They moan and groan very loudly about them when the feds do it to Utah.

But Michael and the board didn’t pull any punches on the biggest cost: labor. We’re becoming a community of old people who can’t staff a volunteer fire department anymore. So we now have to pay firemen to be on call if we expect to be able to put out a fire at night or on weekends. We pay our firemen far less than we really should. Michael pointed out that where he works, they pay people $11 an hour to sell postcards. They pay two firemen to be on call at our station here $7.50 an hour. Michael was a fireman in Las Vegas years ago. He was paid $10.63 an hour in 1985. In today’s dollars, that’s $22.50.  Michael said he wouldn’t run into a burning building for $7.50 an hour. He said that it was outrageous to ask our firemen to do that.

Michael makes this case with passion and conviction. I think we’re generally convinced. But that doesn’t answer the question, “What do we do about it?”

One solution would be to turn it all over to the nearest larger department in Hurricane. Financially, it wouldn’t be a good deal. I covered this in my earlier report too. But the bottom line is that emergency medical service is three-quarters of an hour away if we do that.

The other solution is to raise fees. Copies of a new four page schedule of categories of fees were available to everyone. The board has been working hard to figure out how to make the fees as fair as possible. For example, there are five different categories of “developed residential” fees. There are eight categories of hotels and B&B’s. The board estimates that 70% of the fees will be paid by businesses and 30% by residences.

When the floor was opened to comments, people were in a lynching mood. They were willing to resort to extreme solutions. Some people said that payment should be guaranteed before someone was loaded on an ambulance. The board said that refusing medical service to people who need it was not something they would do. Virtually everyone blamed the hotels. And some people from Rockville were blaming Springdale.

Louise Excell, who was on the Springdale council for decades, did her best to explain the limits of what a town government could do. The Springdale town council looked into increasing the tax (“TRT” – Transient Room Tax) to fund the fire district, but they found that state law simply didn’t give them the authority. Some of the TRT tax is already committed to pay for a water tower, but even if Springdale gave the fire district all of the TRT tax, it still wouldn’t cover expenses.

I agree with asking Springdale for more money. Play hardball with Springdale. Point out what might happen to the TRT revenues if we canceled our ambulance service and then a major news media started reporting that if you have a heart attack in Springdale, you’re likely to die.

I agree with going after the Washington County Commission. They’re reaping the benefits from Zion and not returning enough to the Zion Canyon Community to pay for it. There’s an election coming up. Vote the bums out.

I agree with lobbying the Utah State legislature. It seems to me that they are levying “unfunded mandates” on the fire department. Isn’t that what they scream about when the federal government does it to the state?

I agree with lobbying the federal government. Cheryl Frassa stood up and said she had experience doing this and offered to help. The very existence of Zion Park is the major source of the problem. Shouldn’t they be helping more to pay the cost?

But the fire board isn’t to blame.

The bottom line is exactly as Louise Excell stated it.

As a community, we need to decide whether we are willing to pay for this service or to do without it.

Speaking for myself, I value this service. I’ll pay.

Sunday Sermon
Conservation in Springdale; What We Can Do

KateJewelCDIn the coming decades there will likely be 11 billion people on Earth. This population increase, and our diet and lifestyle choices, have driven us to a precipice.

Deforestation is a central cause of climate change, contributing more greenhouse emissions than does the transportation sector. The tropical forests of Central and South America, Africa and Asia are being destroyed to provide land to graze cattle, to grow food for the animals people choose to eat, and for wood and paper products. I discuss the consequences of diet choice in my book length essay, To Save the Animals. (Nearly completed.) This editorial will focus on the need for paper, cardboard and other recycling.

Trees use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis, therefore when they are destroyed, more CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere. In addition, the water from plant transpiration rises, then condenses to form clouds, and falls as rain or snow. Deforestation disrupts this cycle, and much of the land turns into desert. Large quantities of carbon stored in the soil (especially in peat swamps) are then released to the atmosphere.

Primates, elephants, parrots and other fruit-eating jungle animals disperse seeds away from the parent trees, and package the seeds in fertilizer (dung). As we destroy the forests, we are forcing these species to extinction; the forests may well go extinct, too, without their help. We destroy the forests either by setting fire to them or by cutting down the trees. 50% of all animal species live in the rainforests. We set them on fire or starve them when we destroy the forests. Our actions have set in motion the greatest mass extinction of all time, one that is happening 1,000 (perhaps even up to 100,000) times faster than any previous mass extinction. The animals do not have time to adapt to the rapid change, new species cannot evolve.

Climate change is responsible for heat waves and drought that cause tree deaths from disease and infestations, and lead to hotter forest fires that destroy more trees. Recently, British Columbia lost 58,000 square miles of forest in only a decade. The forest fires kill wildlife. Animals suffocate, burn to death, or lose their shelter and sustenance, as in tropical forests. Thousands of fish may suffocate from ash or die from the heated water in a single forest fire.

To help prevent this cruelty and devastation, it is crucial for businesses and residences to recycle cardboard. Options include:

  • Allied Waste/435.628.2821. AW charges less for pickup of both recycling and trash than for trash pickup only.
  • Blue Sky Recycling/435.673.1400.
  • Sol Foods has a cardboard compactor. They bundle then sell the compacted cardboard. The owners, Max and Julie Gregoric, generously allow other Springdale businesses to bring cardboard to the compactor, located at the side of the building, between Sol Foods and the hardware store. Sol Foods bought the compactor from AFS, and Rocky Mountain Recycling purchases the cardboard.
  • The post office has a recycle bin that accepts cardboard, plastic and paper. It is not big enough to accommodate cardboard from businesses; however, people may recycle cardboard from packages there.
  • The town bins, located past the Community Center and tennis courts on Lion Boulevard, now have a cardboard recycling bin. However, it is not for business use.

Springdale businesses can work together to expand cardboard recycling options. For example, were businesses to contact Dixie Waste to request recycling, it would provide incentive for Dixie Waste to provide such a service.

Businesses and private residences can also make a significant difference by choosing to use recycled paper products – cups, plates, napkins, toilet paper, paper towels.

Springdale is a village, but millions of tourists come here every year. Springdale can help them to recycle plastic, paper and metal cans by placing small recycle bins throughout the town (as is done in Zion National Park). Motels can provide individual recycle bins (metal/plastic/paper) in every room; Cliff Rose Hotel already does this. A competition, either for children and young people, or for people of all ages, could inspire beautiful posters and banners, and fliers to display in store windows to encourage people to recycle. T-shirts, perhaps with designs by children, could promote recycling. Once Springdale has earned bragging rights, there could be bumper stickers and decals as well.

For Springdale to truly be a green community there must be water conservation. The Virgin River provides the water in Springdale. The forecast for the West the coming decades is drought, to where what now is a very dry year will be considered a wet year. The temperature is expected to continue to rise. There will be less snow melt, upon which the Virgin River depends. Springdale can promote water conservation with signs in motel rooms, public restrooms, and restaurants. Businesses and residences that have not yet done so should install water-conserving showerheads, faucets and toilets. Waiters should ask customers if they want water, or partially fill glasses, or restaurants can use smaller glasses. Leftover water should be saved to water plants. Businesses and residences should only water before 8:00 a.m. and after 7 p.m. from mid-April through September; during the heat of the day, much water evaporates. Green laws are water intensive, and therefore not appropriate in Springdale; desert landscaping is beautiful.

There is no more glorious place on Earth and here. Recycling and water conservation are ways to treasure the land and to save wildlife.

Kate Jewel

Secondary Water Advisory Board (SWAB) Meeting – 28 May 2014

chickenYou just don’t know what kind of fun you can have when you go to these meetings! For example, as a result of attending this one, I got to chase a chicken around the cactus along with Mark and Garon (one of our police). Matt Raynor asked Mark why the chicken crossed the road. Mark said it was to avoid going to the SWAB meeting.

SWAB is how Springdale and the irrigation company coordinate. There are two members appointed by Springdale (Mark Chambers and Stan Smith) and three members appointed by the irrigation company (Mark Schraut, Allan Staker, and Brent Heaton, chairman).

This was an unusual event. The Board didn’t meet at all in 2013 and only twice in 2012.  (And one of those meetings doesn’t have recorded minutes. A LOT of business gets done in this town informally. That’s one reason I started this website. I think everyone deserves to know what’s going on.) On Wednesday, three important items were on the agenda.

Note: See Fay Cope’s comment below. The missing minutes have been restored.

  • The Irrigation Pipeline Manhole Project
  • Compliance with the Irrigation Schedule
  • The Contract between Springdale and the Irrigation Company

The Irrigation Pipeline Manhole Project

Most folks here probably know that the majority of the town’s culinary water, as well as the water used for a lot of lawns and pastures, comes from a diversion on the Virgin River. The Park has also used our diversion to get their water from the Virgin. A while back, the Park decided that they wanted their own pipeline and diversion rather than using ours, so they had a contractor building one. Well, as these things go, they nicked our pipe. That normally wouldn’t be a serious problem to fix, but when they started working on repairing the damage, they discovered that our pipe, which has been there in the ground for some thirty years, was full of sediment to the point that they decided it had to be cleaned. As Stan pointed out, the danger was that the pipe wouldn’t deliver enough water during peak summer use and leave the town without water when they need it the most. The town doesn’t intend to take that risk and they intend to move ahead with the project.

There was a lot of discussion about what caused the pipe to fill with sediment. The conclusion was that nobody really knows. Most believe that it has a lot to do with the fact that the river is really low now. Before they nicked the pipe and looked at it, they didn’t know that it was that full of sediment. They had “flow issues” at the pump house last fall that started to affect the town’s ability to provide culinary water to the town. They now believe that those flow issues were related to all of the sand in the pipeline. They tried a lot of things to clean the pipe, they considered a lot of alternative ways to do it, and they chewed up a lot of meeting time talking about it, but the only thing that seemed to work was to put in manholes that will allow sand to be taken out of the pipe through the manhole. So that’s what they did.

Two manholes have already been installed and about 1,500 feet of the pipe have been cleaned. Rick said that they managed to clean 98 percent of the sediment. Rick had the plans available showing that seven more would be needed for a total of nine.

Then they got to the sticky part: paying for it. The irrigation company representatives were very keen to figure that out. The town diverted funds from another account to do the first two. They cost $10,000 each so they’re planning on the whole project costing about $90,000.

Rick said that the contract between the town and the irrigation company specified that for extraordinary events like this, sixty-six percent of the cost would be paid by the irrigation company and thirty-four percent would be paid by the town. (It’s based on the water rights owned by the town versus the irrigation company.)

There was some discussion about whether this was “routine maintenance” or not. It would have made a difference in how the cost was shared. But Mark had read the contract. He pointed out that the actual language of the contract stated that the 66/34 percent cost sharing would apply for, “any improvements, replacements, or extraordinary system costs beyond the annual operation and maintenance”. That sort of ended the discussion.

Just by way of comparison, the operating budget of the irrigation company is only about $20,000 a year. (Well … Everybody there seemed to be aware of some extraordinary legal expenses recently. Allan described it as a “fiasco”. I don’t know a thing about it. Maybe someone will leave a comment and fill in the details.) The town would provide the funding initially and the irrigation company would have to pay back the loan. The irrigation pipeline cost half a million initially and the town and the irrigation company were able to work out a deal to pay for that. Allan made the commonsense observation that the people who live and do business in Springdale would pay for it, one way or another. It was just a question of which pocket it came out of.

Brent said that the irrigation company would have to meet as a Board and consult their members about it.

Compliance with the Irrigation Schedule

Springdale has tried hard to keep a “local flavor” to businesses in town. The “compliance” item was on the agenda for one reason and it is a great example of why local people and local business makes sense for Springdale.

The Hampton Inn uses irrigation water for the vast expanse of lawn in front. But they don’t seem to want to play by the same rules the rest of us follow. Robby, our watermaster, said that he had talked to them a lot about it, but they don’t seem to get the message. This is just me, but I think that’s probably because the people running the Hampton are corporate people, not Springdale people. (A response from Hampton about this would be great!) After consulting the irrigation company rulebook and talking about it, they decided to move to step two: a formal written warning. In Step Three, we cut off their water and it takes a formal act of members of the Board to turn it back on again.

The Contract between Springdale and the Irrigation Company

For much of the meeting, this was the elephant in the room. The contract is thirty years old and most of the specific things that were covered (construction and ownership of the pipeline) will be complete in 2014. There was a lot of motivation on the part of the irrigation company board members to renegotiate the contract. A $90,000 bill is a great motivator. The Springdale members said that would have to be considered by the town council.

At this point, Brent asked if any of us listening had any comments. …  I did.

First, I asked Rick if cost sharing arrangement was part of the contract and he confirmed that it was. I pointed out that even if building and paying for the pipeline was complete, the cost sharing was still as valid as it ever was and there was no real reason that I could see to change it now.

I hope the members of the town council are reading this. I’ll be looking for this on their agenda now.

Advertising … The Blight of Our Time

I remember a time when TV was free except for a one minute ad that had to be endured about every fifteen minutes. I remember when public radio and TV had no ads at all – none! I remember when there were very few billboards cluttering up the roadways … and those that were there were entertaining.

Stinker gas stations painted a few of the huge round volcanic rocks in Idaho green and posted a sign:
“Petrified Watermelons – Take one home to your mother in law”

Or …

This will never
Come to pass
A back-seat
Out of gas

It was a kinder, gentler time.

Have you watched one of the morning news shows recently? There is a bombardment of ads every few minutes. They go on and on for longer than the news segments. And even the “news” is really advertising. This new movie has been released; that new drug is being tested. And we have to pay for TV now. Free TV is a distant memory. Gaaaagh!

Recently, a required Securities and Exchange Commission filing from Google gave us a peek into what they’re planning to do to us in the future: “a few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities.”

I can visualize a future conversation with my refrigerator.

“Fridge, give me a cola.”
“Have you considered trying the refreshing taste of Seven-Up instead?”

HumanBillboardRoxy said she has read these innovative ideas in novels …

  • Painting the backs of sea turtles with phosphorescent ads so when they’re photographed emerging from the sea to lay their eggs, we have to endure advertising.
  • Displaying ads in the sky from search lights, “Batman” style.
  • Ad’s on the back of urinal stalls. (Ladies, count your blessings.)

National Public Radio’s (brought to you by Delta Air Lines) MarketWatch pointed out that advertisers are blaming us … US! … for this plague of ads. Advertisers are moaning and whining that we’re getting too good at ignoring their ads, so they have to pound us with more and more of them so their message gets through. In other words, “The beatings will only get worse until our bad attitude is corrected.”

Which actually brings us back to Springdale.

Gatlinburg, TennesseeGateway to Great Smoky National Park

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gateway to Great Smoky National Park

The saying goes, “Think global and act local.” Few things are more contentious in Springdale than the sign ordinance. When I was on the commission, we devoted more time to it than any other ordinance. And there’s a strong movement in both the council and the commission to bring it up again.

I can remember a restaurant in town that was finally granted permission to erect a new sign that was actually in violation of the ordinance at the time. (After two tries … they hired the magician Peter Stempel the second time and Peter’s magic touch did the trick. They pleaded that a special case “loophole” clause applied to them.) Their basic whine was, “We’re going bankrupt! If we can’t get this sign, we’ll go out of business!” They went out of business anyway. It takes a special talent to go out of business in Springdale, but the point is that the extra advertising didn’t save them.

On the flip side, River Rock down in La Verkin is doing a booming business in the same location that several businesses have failed in. They don’t seem to have a huge advertising presence. Actually, their best advertising is the full parking lot next to them.

There’s a war of escalating signs in Springdale right now. Every business seems to be convinced that their business would be soooooooo much better if they just had better signage … brighter, bigger, more noticeable … to which I say, “Bullpucky !!!”

If we revise our sign ordinance again, we should clamp down and make signs smaller and even less noticeable than the current ordinance allows.

Racial Identity, Zora Hurston, and Current Events

(A Discussion of Zora Neale Hurston’s defiant book, Their Eyes Were Watching God will be held at the Springdale Library starting at 7:00 tonight, April 30. Contact the library for more information.)

Zora2The anchor of is local events and local voices. But, by a strange turn, a national event has become local. In two separate incidents, racial prejudice against blacks has hit the headlines. Hurston’s work – written in the 1930’s and 1940’s – stands in stark contrast to the reaction of … not the whole nation, but certainly the most vocal part of it. Today’s national headlines will be a part of tonight’s local discussion at the Springdale Library so I decided to write about it here as part of a last minute reminder about our meeting.

The first national incident is almost local, taking place an hour down the road in Bunkerville, Nevada. Washington County found it necessary to publicize their position on the issue. The initial story was about a Nevada rancher who made himself a symbol of civil disobedience. But the story morphed into one about racial prejudice when the rancher voluntarily gave his opinion that black people might have been better off as slaves. As soon as those words traveled past his lips, even his most ardent supporters in revolution deserted him. There are few things that are more toxic in today’s culture than public racial prejudice. That the rancher claims he’s not prejudiced and he gives some good reasons. It makes no difference. In the hyper-sensitive issue of race, appearance is everything.

Another “old white guy” instantly condemned himself in a “news” media whipped tornado of national opinion when an illegally recorded telephone argument with his mixed race girlfriend became public. I won’t defend the old white guy. But my dislike for the guy has more to do with his status as a plutocrat than his point of view on race. A number of side issues seem more significant to me.

  • This was an argument with an attractive young woman maybe 50 years younger that he evidently has a close, personal relationship with.
  • He’s has been married to a different woman for 50 years, probably before the young woman was born.
  • Recording a private telephone conversation without consent is illegal in California.

These things are only mentioned as afterthoughts in the hyperventilated television interviews that have dominated CNN for days. But the old white guy will now be forced to abandon a big part of his life – over a foolish telephone argument with a young woman he should not have been fooling around with.

Contrast this with what the black, female writer, Zora Neale Hurston, has to say about race relations.

When I have been made to suffer or when I have been made happy by others, I have known that individuals were responsible for that, and not races. All clumps of people turn out to be individuals on close inspection. The word “race” is a loose classification of physical characteristics. It tells nothing about the insides of people. …  There is no solid reason why the blacks and the whites cannot live in one nation in perfect harmony, the only thing in the way of it is Race Pride and Race Consciousness on both sides.

“No, no, no!!!” (I hear you saying.) “Black people were slaves, slaves, I tell you! The damage done to an entire race by that experience is something that white people just can’t understand. And it’s still going on. Bundy and Sterling prove it!”

Maybe so, maybe no. My wife is Slovenian. That’s a Slavic country. The word “slave” originates from “slavic”. I call her my Hunky Honey … from the word, “Bohunk”. She has other names for me. We get along fine.

One sure way to keep a wound open is to keep picking at it. You can turn a small wound into a major injury that way. Or … you can stitch it up, leave it alone, and let it heal.

When President Obama was asked about the Sterling controversy, he said, “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That’s what happened here.” President Obama, like Zora Hurston, has always impressed me as someone who is confident within their own skin.

The Man Who Brought Civility Back to Town

Six years ago, Springdale, Utah–deep in red rock country–was a community in chaos. A friendly “outsider” came to the rescue.

By Michael Ryan

Phillip Bimstein when he was mayor of Springdale

Phillip Bimstein when he was mayor of Springdale

Situated just outside Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah (pop. 350), has one of the most breathtaking settings in the nation. Elegant inns, middle-class motels and inexpensive campgrounds coexist in this town that sees 2.5 million visitors annually. Six years ago, however, Springdale’s political climate was anything but serene.

Tensions ran high between developers and conservationists. Developers argued for the right of property owners to do what they wanted with their land. Others thought the local government should step in to preserve what they saw as the quality of life. “People took sides on an issue, and lines got drawn,” says Mavis Madsen, a librarian. “They took things very personally. There were many battles and many scars.”

“People took sides, and lines got drawn,” says one resident.

 “A sheriff was needed at every council meeting,” says another.

Don Falvey, who was appointed superintendent of the park in 1991, recalls the atmosphere: “I was advised that when I went to the town meeting in Springdale, I should sit close to the deputy sheriff, because he would be there to break up the fights.” Falvey assumed that his advisers were joking. They weren’t. “It was true,” he says. “They needed a sheriff at every meeting.”

The town was desperate for new direction. In 1993, a group of residents asked Phillip Kent Bimstein to consider running for a four-year term as mayor. A Chicago native, Bimstein had impulsively bought a house in Springdale on a hiking trip through Utah in 1988. “It was a gamble,” he says. “I didn’t know anything about the community.”

Many felt that Bimstein was the one public figure in town who had been actively improving Springdale’s reputation. As president of the town’s arts council, he’d persuaded the New Music Festival, an annual international event, to come to Springdale in 1992. That year, the festival was spread over a dozen locations, including Berlin, Chicago and Los Angeles.

After some initial hesitation, Bimstein decided to run. “I started to get excited about the idea,” he says. “I thought I could do some good.” He was not your typical politician. Instead of organizing rallies of his supporters, Bimstein campaigned among voters he didn’t know. He would call up a family and ask if he could drop by to discuss whatever was on their minds. “I could meet people and, in case I actually got elected, I could get a sense of what their concerns were,” he says.

Even more unconventional than his campaign style was his platform, which Bimstein summed up in one work: civility. “I told them I didn’t see the mayor’s job as pushing through an agenda but rather as moderating and facilitating,” he explains. “We all have to listen to each other and respect what the other person thinks.”

The voters liked what they heard: Bimstein swamped two opponents, taking 60% of the vote. Two new like-minded council members were swept into office with him. He immediately began making changes: encouraging citizens to share their concerns with him, appointing new members to the planning board–and reminding everyone to listen. He instructed his new appointees in town offices and committees to treat each citizen equally. “I told my friends before the election, “If you expect any special treatment from me after I’m elected, forget it,” he says. “They actually liked that.”

The new mayor’s civility platform had an immediate effect. “The atmosphere has change,” says Don Falvey. “Now it’s conducive to mutual cooperation and problem-solving.” One citizen has even given up attending council meetings: “All they do now is conduct business. They’re no fun anymore.”

In addition to being a respected leader, the mayor is also an accomplished musician. In the early ’80s, he fronted the successful New Wave band Phil ‘n’ the Blanks, marrying the band’s co-lead singer, Blanche Blacke. (The couple divorced amicably in 1990, and then Blacke returned to big city life.) Though he’s not a Mormon, Bimstein has sung with the choir of the town’s Mormon church and composed a commemorative piece for Springdale’s 30th anniversary.

Bimstein’s friendship with Garland Hirschi, a 71-year-old cattle rancher, inspired him to combine Hirschi’s voice, the lowing of the cows and instrumentation into a strangely moving composition titled “Garland Hirschi’s Cows.” In another piece, “Dark Winds Rising,” he combined the voices of Native Americans from the area with the sounds of a string quartet.

Bimstein was among this year’s recipients of a grant from the national Meet the Composer New Residencies program, which selects five composers annually. Each receives $235,000, which is shared with his community to help make music an integral part of its culture and to gain wider exposure for the composer’s work. “In my music, I like to look at my community and see what is unique,” Bimstein says proudly. “I want to tell the stories of the people.”

“I started to realize that being mayor and being a composer can both be creative,” he adds. “Being mayor is like making a collaborative composition.”

Collaboration has become a watchword in Springdale. Park workers volunteered to paint the town’s gazebo. The town and the park worked together to develop a new shuttle transportation system. And when a sudden late-night rockslide dammed up the park’s Virgin River and threatened to flood campgrounds and low-lying buildings, Park Superintendent Falvey turned to the mayor to help organize emergency evacuation relocation inside and outside the park.

Last year, this unprecedented level of civility earned the town and the park an award from the National Park Foundation in Washington, D.C. “I feel at home in this community,” Bimstein says. “It’s a good place to be. We had lost faith in ourselves, and now it’s being restored.”

Reprinted from Parade Magazine, November 2, 1997

Utah Geological Survey Says Rockville Residents Should Move


The Utah Geological Survey just issued a report about rock fall hazards in Rockville and the news media jumped all over it. According to the article at KSL:

The Utah Geological Survey says the area where a massive rock fall killed two people last December remains so dangerous it is recommending Rockville move people out and raze any remaining structures.

That’s a perfect example of wildly exaggerated reporting. While there clearly is risk, especially for certain areas, the vast majority of Rockville is about as safe as anyplace. But the articles I’ve collected here are worth a read for ZiCC people, if only to see what others are saying about us.

The comments to the articles are more misinformed than the articles. I’m sure that ZiCC people can write better comments.

Click to read the KSL News Article
(Leon Lewis Interview)

Click to read the Fox13 News Article

Click to read the St. George News Article
(my photo featured here and a lot of great links are also included)

Click to read the Desert News Article

Click to read the KCSG Television Article

Sunday Sermon – If It Lives Here, Then It Belongs Here

InvasiveThe New York Times (“The last great newspaper in America!”) recently featured a column written by a correspondent in São Paulo, Brazil (Beware of Cold-Blooded Americans) about an invasive species from America that has invaded other countries – the Red Eared Turtle. I tried in vain to keep several of these alive when I was a little kid. It’s a good bet that you did too. But I didn’t know that they were considered to be one of the worst invasive species by other countries.

Looking back, the suffering and death I caused, however innocently, to too many turtles, snakes, lizards and toads is one of the top regrets I have now that I am old. The only positive thing I can think of is that it gives me the motivation to simply leave them alone today; and an appreciation of them as friends and neighbors where I live. After all, they were here first.

But the question is, “When does something stop being a pest and an invasive life form and start being a friend and neighbor?” It’s not a simple question. At least, for me it’s not.

One method that science uses to analyze questions like this is to do thought experiments. Einstein called them, “Gedankenexperiment”. One of the most familiar is sound relativity when a train is approaching a railway station. Dozens of popular science shows have used it to illustrate Einstein’s theory about the relativity of light. “Sound” is not “light”, but it has enough in common to help us understand light.

So, what has enough in common with an invasive life form to help me understand it better? How about my neighbor down the road who is building a new house? As I attend planning commission meetings, it’s hard not to conclude that many people there consider any new development to be invasive and a nuisance to be stamped out whenever possible. I have to admit that the loss of many beautiful junipers and black brush was a harsh and joyless thing at the construction site down the road. But then, a beautiful yucca was uprooted when they built my house. There was a time when I was an invasive life form in this place.

wheelNative Americans … palefaces usually call them “Indians” which has got to be one of the longest running mistakes ever in history … consider the European paleface to be an invasive species. But then, there was a time … not so long ago in geological terms … when “native Americans” were an invasive species too. I wrote a story about one of the species they wiped out:  The Last Mammoth. And I remember reading the interpretive signs near the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Montana and realizing that the Sioux were an invasive species to the people who built it. The Sioux pushed them out at about the same time that European palefaces were pushing out the native Americans on the east coast.

I notice that there is a major effort to uproot and destroy the tamarisk (salt cedar) bushes along the river between Rockville and Virgin this year. I remember reading how much it costs to do that. It’s not cheap. We are told that destroying tamarisk is necessary to preserve the native cottonwood and willows. Bugs that feed on the tamarisk have been imported and released to help wipe them out. The bug is an invasive species too, isn’t it?

When I first moved here, there were lots of mourning doves. Now, there are many fewer. I’ve heard them in the distance but I have yet to actually see one this year. Instead, there are lots of collared doves, an invasive species from Eurasia. Collared doves are nice too.

Perhaps there is a case to be made for the point of view: “If it lives here, then it belongs here.”

Sunday Sermon 2 – Climate Change and Solar Power

This ZiCC web site was enriched by an essay from Louise Excell in response to a Sunday Sermon. Louise raised some great points in her essay so I decided to continue the conversation. This is my response to Louise and to the ZiCC community generally.

The first point that Louise makes is one that I fully agree with. She quotes a climate expert that she worked with recently, “his conclusion—and that of climate experts he cited—is that ‘it’s too late’”.

I started to reach this same conclusion twenty years ago. I attended a lecture at the University of Utah by a world class climate expert. Back then, the trends were clear, but the causes and the ultimate result were not. At the end, I raised my hand and asked the same question, “Is it too late?” It was easy to tell that the scientist presenting the lecture was troubled by the question. The short version of his answer was, “It probably is too late, but I refuse to allow myself to think that it is.”

Since then, scientific understanding of climate change has marched on and our fate has become much clearer. This leads directly into the second part of Louise’s essay:  What should we do about it?

The short answer is that there’s nothing we can do.

In her essay, Louise suggests that my idea for CSP solar panels is a serious “solution”. In some other universe, it could be, but not in this one. I advance that idea out of scientific curiosity, not because I think it might actually happen. That’s why I added the sarcastic phrase, “By the way, equip all pigs with wings.” Kiss your grandchildren goodbye. We’re toast.

Louise then goes on to, “suggest that there are other things we might do.” It’s a nice list and I find much to agree with in the worlds she asks us to imagine. I have considered worlds that are better than this one too. In fact, I write novels about them. (For myself. … You might try writing novels for yourself. It’s great therapy.) Unfortunately, we live in this world. Her final suggestion is, “Consider a world in which we admit our errors and correct them.” Oh Look!! There’s a flying pig!!

Back in this world, what can we do individually? Because “we” are not going to “do” anything to “solve” climate change. “We” are going to extinct ourselves in a relentless spiral downward into an unlivable planet. (Unless something else, like nuclear war, happens first.) But you can do something by yourself and so can I.

About ten years ago, I discovered a Buddhist koan (moral story … think, “Aesop’s fables”) that gave me the answer I use every day. It’s called The Parable of the Strawberry.

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.  Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

Buddhist koan’s are intended to help you meditate and calm your mind, not to be explained, so I won’t. This one helps me. You may have noticed that a quote from the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith has long been at the bottom of every page at this web site: “Men are that they might have joy.” That meshes well with the koan. Meditate on that one too.

Actually, I thought of my own phrase before I discovered either of these. I used it as part of the title of my review of a book that describes yet another path that we are using to descend into Hell, The Euphoria of Despair – A review of Canaries on the Rim by Chip Ward. (We are nothing if not industrious in figuring out ways to extinct ourselves.) The basic concept of “The Euphoria of Despair” is that once all hope is completely gone, you might as well be happy. If I am remembered for just one thing, I would like it to be the invention of that phrase.

This is in complete contrast to the attitude of Louise and others. A well known opposite point of view can be found in a poem by Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night. Thomas tells us to, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. I don’t see any sense in rage. We are passengers on a bus together which has gone – has gone – over a high cliff and we’re now falling toward the rocks at the bottom. Right at the present moment, it’s a great ride! Wheeeeeeee !!!

We have all known that we are going to die someday. The ability to contemplate our own death is one of the distinguishing characteristics of our species. As my friend Bob used to say (before he died), “If you think you’re going to get out of this alive, you are tragically mistaken.” Different people have confronted this reality in different ways. In the late 1700’s, public hangings by the hundreds were common in England, giving rise to a whole culture of death. In his epic history, The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes describes the carnival atmosphere:

… the condemned rode to Tyburn in bright clothes “like Men that triumph” as though the journey of shame were the parade of a Caesar. A man’s bearing on the cart and at Tyburn was discussed like the form of a boxer at a prizefight. … A “Tyburn blossom” must be an exemplary dandy, trim, gay, and uncaring.

The Reverend Robert Malthus gave his name – “malthusian” – to uncontrolled population growth, yet another method that we are using to descend into Hell. Perhaps the word “mabbuttonian” will come to mean “giddy joy in the face of certain death”.